Zucchini and Dill Soup a la Bittman


There comes a time around the end of August when I feel an urgency to take advantage of the produce that, come autumn, will cease to overflow at farmers markets. It is during these dwindling days of summer that I crave the season’s fruits, vegetables and abundant herbs in their pure, unadulterated states. Meet a simple soup that embodies the freshness of summer: pureed zucchini, delicate and light, hosts handfuls of freshly chopped dill—it’s a combination that highlights the strengths of its core ingredients without unnecessary frill.

See the recipe and read my full post at markbittman.com.


Flash-Cooked Curried Salmon

Flash-Cooked Curried Salmon with Chickpea Raita from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything: Bittman Takes on America's Chefs. See the recipe and read the full post at markbittman.com.


Sunny Breakfast Bulgar

Rainy mornings beckon for the comfort of a bowl of warm oatmeal. But finding myself out of rolled oats on this particular dreary morning, I was forced to rethink my typical hot cereal routine. I recalled Heidi Swanson's creative alternative in Super Natural Every Day to use bulgar in place of oats. Her Lemon-Zested Bulgar Wheat involves simmering bulgar in coconut milk to produce a hot cereal much akin to the consistency of oatmeal. I was compelled to try this unique approach that takes bulgar out of its usual role in a grain salad or tabbouleh and brings it to the breakfast table. I conjured up my own variation of Heidi's breakfast bulgar, opting to use almond milk and my own set of fixings, including roasted sunflower seeds and currants. Spiked with lemon zest and drizzled with honey, this bowl brings a burst of sunshine to satisfy your morning. I can already see the clouds breaking.

[Adapted from Super Natural Every Day

1 cup almond milk
1 1/4 cups water
1 cup bulgar wheat
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds
1/4 cup currants
1 Tbsp honey, to taste

1. In a small saucepan bring almond milk and 3/4 cup water to a boil. Add bulgar and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 10-20 minutes -- adding 1/4 cup at a time of additional water if it absorbs before bulgar is cooked through. The bulgar should be creamy, yet retain its texture.

2. Stir in lemon zest, honey, sunflower seeds and currants to serve.


Summer Fritters

This fritter glorifies the best of summer produce. Think potato pancake on summer vacation. Corn and zucchini -- ever-abundant at the farmer's markets right now -- replace the bland starch in a reformed pancake that is dense, yet delicate. The corn contributes pockets of sweetness and crunch, the zucchini, a pulpy freshness. The brightness of the raw vegetable combo is complimented by lemon zest and fresh parsley, giving these fritters a unique vibrancy. Chopped chickpeas team up with eggs, milk and flour to provide structural integrity and allow the fritters to bind when they kiss the skillet. After a dance in hot oil, the fritters achieve a perfectly crisp crust that gives way to a pleasantly moist and spongy inside. Stack them high and enjoy with a dollop of Greek yogurt (plus a drizzle of honey if you're feeling especially decadent).

[Yield: 12 fritters]


1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 large zucchini, grated
 1 1/2 cups fresh corn off the cob
3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbsp lemon zest 
1/4 cup minced red onion
1/2 cup reduced-fat milk
2 egg whites
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
sour cream, Greek yogurt, honey (optional accompaniments)

1. Process chickpeas until roughly chopped.
2. Grate a large zucchini and allow it to drain, pressing out any excess liquid. Remove corn kernels from the cob (about 2 ears) and set aside with 1/4 cup minced red onion, lemon zest and fresh chopped parsley.
3. In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together milk and egg whites. Place flour in a medium bowl and gradually pour in milk mixture, whisking until smooth. Stir in chickpeas, zucchini, corn, parsley, zest and onion.
4. Heat oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1/4 cup mixture to pan, spreading slightly with a spatula to create an even fritter. Repeat process, adding 3 more fritters to the pan. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes each side or until golden and cooked through. Transfer to a plate, covering to keep warm. Repeat with remaining mixture until the batter is used up, adding more oil to the pan between batches, if necessary.
5. Enjoy plain, or serve topped with sour cream or Greek yogurt and a drizzle of honey, if you prefer.


Banana-Zucchini Bread

I am not partial to baking; I much prefer methods of cooking where I can experiment, taste and tweak as I go rather than wait until the end to see if it comes out right. But I have just enough patience for quick breads. Of this special no-yeast genre, banana bread has been the chosen one for me since childhood. My nana would always have a loaf on hand for our visits and I remember sitting in her kitchen, annihilating slice after slice until the loaf was nearly extinct, at which point she would magically produce another. (And so it goes...) Her recipe was adapted from the Joy of Cooking -- classic and delicious -- and my family has been making it that way ever since. But, being the experimenter that I am, I cannot pass up an interesting recipe twist. Enter Joanne Bruno's recipe for Whole Wheat Banana Zucchini Bread. I stumbled across this recipe and was immediately intrigued by its marriage of two classic quick breads: banana and zucchini. A fruit and veggie combo loaf? Sounds healthy to me. With chocolate chips? Yes, please. I opted to throw some currants into the mix as well, though I imagine a variety of dried fruits and nuts would be stellar additions to this loaf.

[Adapted from Joanne Bruno, Yield: 1 loaf]

2 eggs
1/4 cup honey
1 cup mashed banana
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt 2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 medium zucchini, grated
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried currants

1. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a standard-sized loaf pan.
2. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, honey, banana, brown sugar, and vanilla until well-combined.
3. In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon. Mix into the egg/banana mixture just until combined.
4. Stir in the zucchini, chocolate chips and currants until just combined.
5. Pour into loaf pan and bake for 50 to 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let rest for 15-20 minutes before removing from the loaf pan. Cool completely on a wire rack.

[Note: For this batch I baked part of the batter as muffins, yielding 4 small muffins and a slightly smaller loaf. The muffins took about 40 minutes to cook through and the loaf was perfect at 55, though times will vary depending on the oven -- use the toothpick rule to be sure].


Cold Soup Revisited

There is no denying the power of a chilled soup to subdue the misery of the mid-summer heat. Gazpacho has long-ruled in the realm of my cold soup repertoire, though I've noticed a resurgence from a few underrated (but equally as tasty) rivals. Cucumber-mint, cool melon and chilled pea soup are a few versions that have traversed my palate this summer. The great thing about most of these blended soups is that they require little --if any -- cooking and can go from blender to bowl to mouth in minutes. 

When I came across Mark Bittman's recipe for a cold avocado-corn chowder in Cooking Light, I was eager to give it a whirl (and excited for a new way to use my bounty of fresh corn). With its natural fats and creamy texture, I expected the avocado base to hit somewhere between the less filling, exclusively veggie-based soups and the more substantial blends that use yogurt as reinforcement. However, I was surprised by the result of this broth, which, through the liberal addition of orange juice and water, lacked the viscosity that I had imagined it would have. That said, the flavor of the broth was quite wonderful. OJ and avocado turned out to be a delicious flavor marriage that became even more interesting through spicy accents of ground cayenne pepper. 

With its thin broth, this soup relies on raw ingredients for substance and crunch -- fresh corn off the cob, red bell pepper and green onions do the job well, with shredded grilled chicken breast and more diced avocado adding further texture. With a final shower of cilantro, the simple green broth is fully transformed into a refreshing, Southwest-inspired chowder.

AVOCADO-CORN CHOWDER WITH GRILLED CHICKEN [From Mark Bittman, Cooking Light August 2011]

2 ripe avocados, divided
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (optional)
12 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breast
1 teaspoon olive oil 1 small garlic clove, cut in half
1 1/2 cup fresh corn kernels (about 3 ears)
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/3 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. Peel and coarsely chop 1 avocado; place in a blender / food processor. Add water, orange juice, honey, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and red pepper, if desired; blend until smooth. Place in freezer to chill while chicken cooks.
2. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Brush chicken with oil; sprinkle with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Place chicken in pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until done. Remove chicken from pan; rub chicken with cut sides of garlic halves. Let chicken stand 10 minutes; cut or shred into bite-sized pieces.
3. Peel and dice remaining avocado. Combine with corn, bell pepper, onions and half of cilantro. Stir into chilled avocado puree. Spoon chowder into bowls; top with chicken and remaining cilantro.


Getting Personal with Pesto

"What is pesto? Pesto is the way a person makes a pesto." Emboldened by this mantra (see: Saveur) and equipped with an abundance of fresh basil on the brink of oxidization, I set out to get creative with the classic condiment. The Liguria region of Italy claims the authentic version -- a vibrant combination of basil, pine nuts, garlic, salt, cheese, and olive oil. These six iconic ingredients define the pesto that has become a household name, though there has been debate over specific measurements, textures and steps involved in the process of making it. It is also a sauce that allows considerable flexibility in its ingredients and use. Pesto's extended family spans across regions and generations -- Saveur mentions walnut pesto, parsley pesto with capers and anchovies, garlic scape pesto, almond and sun-dried tomato pesto, cilantro and pepita pesto, pistachio pesto, arugula pesto, and roasted red pepper and ricotta pesto as some interesting examples. With a nod to the original and a nudge from its cousins, I arrived at my own ingredient list using what I had in my kitchen: basil, arugula, mint, hazelnuts, pepitas, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice. The measurements? I can't exactly say. I didn't measure, rather added and tweaked until I arrived at a consistency and flavor that was desirable. Which is what I recommend to any pesto-maker. Because pesto is not a perfect science; it is the way a person makes it.

I will try to remember generally what I threw into my food processor for the sake of repeat performances...


Ingredients (approximations):

1 cup basil
1 cup arugula
A few mint sprigs
1/4 to 1/3 cup hazelnuts
3-4 Tbsp pepitas
2 garlic cloves
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice